“Positive step forward” – St Vincent’s welcomes NSW drug law announcement

Media Release: Tuesday, 10 October 2023

St Vincent’s has welcomed the news that the Minns Government will introduce legislation so people found with small amounts of illicit substances will be able to avoid a criminal record. 

“This is a positive step forward,” said Prof Nadine Ezard, the Clinical Director of St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney’s Drug and Alcohol Service.

“One of the main groups we support at St Vincent’s are people struggling with substance use disorder. 

“St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney has more Emergency Department presentations related to substance use than any other NSW hospital.

“And there is no question that the burden of a criminal justice approach to the personal use of illicit drugs falls heaviest on people with substance use disorders. It is a significant contributor to their premature death, poor health, stigma, and discrimination.

“Any measure which helps relieve that burden is welcome.

“Substance use disorder is a health issue. People with substance dependence will continue using drugs knowing there will be negative consequences – yes, including a criminal record, including prison. 

“So we know that criminalising people for a health issue is not the right approach. It just compounds the problem. 

“We note that the policy’s two on-the-spot fines of $400 can be waived – that’s important. Because the people most likely to come to the attention of police are people who are least likely able to afford the fine.”

St Vincent’s became the first hospital and health services provider to publicly support a policy of decriminalisation last year after an 18 month internal consultation process with people with lived experience of substance use, addiction medicine specialists, and other health experts in areas as diverse as emergency medicine, correctional health, and homeless health.

“While we welcome this announcement there is still room for improvement. For example, people who have already received two or more Criminal Infringement Notices – and that would include many of the clients my colleagues and I see – won’t benefit from this approach. But it’s a start. 

“I look forward to the NSW Government’s Drug Summit next year when hopefully we’ll have an opportunity to give feedback to this legislation and provide advice to the government on how it might be improved in due course,” said Prof Ezard. 

Media contact: Paul Andrews 0409 665 495

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